PracticalDad:  Permitting Self-Defense

Is there a point at which it’s morally correct to permit a child to take off the gloves in dealing with a bully?

The local school district teaches my children that violence isn’t the answer and that it’s wrong.  I agree with that and teach it as well.  But the school teaches that it’s so wrong, in fact, that anyone found participating in violence will be dealt with summarily and harshly.  This includes the child who didn’t start the altercation, has a back against the wall and is forced to throw a punch in self-defense.  Middle once asked the elementary school guidance counselor, what if I’m against the wall and being beaten?  Can I defend myself?  The counselor’s response was no, yell for an adult to come help.  Well, he continued, what if there’s no adult around?  The response was the same:  yell for an adult to come help.  Here is where we part ways since there are moments when the adults aren’t immediately available and if they are, they might not be effective in dealing with the issue. So while I fully agree with the district that violence must be addressed, and forcefully, is there ever an instance when violent self-defense is actually acceptable?

First, how can I say that adult aides might not be present or effective?  There are certainly playground aides charged with maintaining the peace, but we’ve got first hand experience with playground aides simply saying stop that and then turning away as the mayhem continues.  To be fair, this wasn’t in this school district but at a Christian school at which playground aides would tell out-of-control boys to stop doing something and then pray for the budding axe murderers as the pain-inducing behavior continued.  The disorder led to my conversation with the principal and my wife’s discussion with the teacher – whose son was one of the bullies – when some order when finally restored.

The adults prayed as one of my kids was victimized, so yes, I can attest that adults might not be effective.  Even in this district, there are children whose recurrent behavior is violent and disruptive, apparently resistant to school discipline.

Violence should be roundly condemned, but again, is there ever an instance in which it is acceptable?

It’s not an academic question for the household, especially with Youngest, whose class attracts Hell’s spawn like honey draws flies.  Every classroom has problem children with whom teachers and children alike have to contend, but Youngest has already had to learn to deal with a child who hired an older boy to beat him up and that was in first grade.  To his credit, he managed the immediate situation better at seven years of age better than many adults would have in similar circumstances.  But this year, a true troublemaker not only came to Youngest’s class, he also moved into a nearby abode so that at midyear, he was not only at school, but wandering through the neighborhood and annoying all of the kids.  The child – a third grader – would simply stay at someone’s house and refuse to leave and one set of parents simply let him spend the night since he refused to go home.  They were scared to deal with him and simply let him stay.  Why this didn’t become a situation for social services is beyond me. 

His school record was even worse and Youngest had to testify to the school administration when he heard the child make threats against other classmates, some of those threats being sexually aggressive.  He routinely threatened other children and even grabbed Youngest and threw him into lockers, threatening to punch him out.  At this point, Youngest’s response was simply go ahead and punch me.  Youngest is significantly larger than the child and the kid pulled back; Youngest had no real further problems with him after that, so much so that the child began showing up after school in our driveway to shoot basketball. 

It was clear that any parental oversight was minimal and we knew from another situation that he’d been locked out of his apartment with literally nowhere to go.  The family line became that he could shoot hoops with Youngest if either myself or Middle – a middle schooler – was present but that he couldn’t enter the house and had to adhere to family rules, such as controlling the language and it was here that he was warned off on several occasions by both Middle and myself.  After more language issues, he was warned off and I told him one night that he finally had to go.  Youngest made it clear as well that he was no longer welcome at the house and the basketball sessions ended and the most that we saw of the child was when he’d cut through the yard to go elsewhere in the neighborhood.  Since then, he’ll try to chat with Middle but cusses out Youngest and insults both him and our family and he sees no conflict in this contrariness. 

Yell for an adult.  While I’m generally around, Youngest is now old enough that I’m comfortable leaving him for a short period to run to the grocery and it was during one of these instances that he came around the back of the house to find the bully hiding in a corner of the garage behind the sports/toy rack, which he’d been rifling.  Youngest told him to leave and he did so immediately.  When describing the situation to me upon my return, Youngest stated simply that if it happened again, he’d punch him out.  My response was a simple, curt you won’t have any problem with me on that.  Since then however, we’ve made it a point to keep the garage door closed if we’re not outside and the kid has simply walked past the house.

I am bothered by the response however.  I believe that the school’s zero tolerance is understandable, but that it ultimately breeds victims, people who spend their time searching for someone else to handle the bullies that come through.  We have the right to defend ourselves and our property and the reality is that "adults" aren’t always going to be around.  The alternative however, is that this kid truly is a budding sociopath for whom there are no qualms about escalating violence with a peer and this is where I’ve gone back to Youngest.  Should it happen again, then call for me first and let me handle the issue.  Even if the kid takes off, I have no qualms about confronting parents and have done so before; I’ll be the "bad guy" here.  But if I’m not around, then he’s clear to do what he thinks is necessary at the moment and I’ll support him, even if that means that he’s throwing a punch. 

If it ever comes to that, I guarantee that Youngest will be painted as the villain.  I also guarantee that I’ll support my son to the hilt when it comes to this particular problem child.



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